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4 Conditionals

A conditional is a directive that instructs the preprocessor to select whether or not to include a chunk of code in the final token stream passed to the compiler. Preprocessor conditionals can test arithmetic expressions, or whether a name is defined as a macro, or both simultaneously using the special defined operator.

A conditional in the C preprocessor resembles in some ways an if statement in C, but it is important to understand the difference between them. The condition in an if statement is tested during the execution of your program. Its purpose is to allow your program to behave differently from run to run, depending on the data it is operating on. The condition in a preprocessing conditional directive is tested when your program is compiled. Its purpose is to allow different code to be included in the program depending on the situation at the time of compilation.

However, the distinction is becoming less clear. Modern compilers often do test if statements when a program is compiled, if their conditions are known not to vary at run time, and eliminate code which can never be executed. If you can count on your compiler to do this, you may find that your program is more readable if you use if statements with constant conditions (perhaps determined by macros). Of course, you can only use this to exclude code, not type definitions or other preprocessing directives, and you can only do it if the code remains syntactically valid when it is not to be used.

GCC version 3 eliminates this kind of never-executed code even when not optimizing. Older versions did it only when optimizing.